Would You Ask Turkeys to Mandate Thanksgiving? The Dismal Politics of Legislative Transparency
iSolon.org; Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
December 14, 2008
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prevents legislators from infringing on the freedom of the press. But, of necessity, legislators have been granted monopoly control of legislative information systems, including parliamentary procedure and roll call votes. New information technology is revolutionizing the economics of legislative information systems. But elected officials have a conflict of interest in using those new technologies to enhance democratic accountability when that might conflict with their own re-election interests. This paper looks at the online accessibility of roll call votes by legislator in 126 legislative branches: the 2 branches of Congress, the 99 branches in the 50 U.S. states, and the 25 branches (city councils) in the 25 largest U.S. cities. It concludes that legislators have a conflict of interest and act on it in making roll call votes inaccessible. Moreover, this particular conflict of interest is merely the tip of the iceberg of a greater incentive problem elected officials have in designing legislative information systems to make themselves more democratically accountable. Legislative information systems are a critical foundation of democratic media systems. Strengthening them should therefore be of concern to anyone interested in strengthening the mass media and democracy. The paper concludes with a vision and set of policy recommendations for Information Age legislative information systems.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 61
Keywords: legislative studies, legislative information systems, roll call votes, edemocracy, Congress, congressional transparency, democratic reform
JEL Classification: D72, P16working papers series
Date posted: March 7, 2009 ; Last revised: April 14, 2013
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